Rapidly heating in the slow warm glow of the microwave, a plastic bag partially filled with precooked meat was glistening and getting sweatier as the timer decreased. The intoxicating smell of slightly warped plastic and overcooked meat overpowered the smell of freshly baked bread, the only foodstuff whose expiration date hadn’t been doctored by simply adhering a new “Use by ____” label on top of the old one and adding a new date to it. The concoction of scents took me back to 2002 when I was a junior in high school on a two-week trip to Philadelphia. I remember waiting in line with a group of teenagers, primarily from Utah, on a bitter winter’s day. The big man behind the cash register asked me if I wanted my sandwich with cheese. His thick Philly accent and manner of delivery left me culture shocked and all I could do was nod affirmatively.
The Subway “sandwich artist” preparing my sandwich asked me what kind of cheese I would like. It took me a minute to come up with an answer to a relatively easy question. I looked down at the varied assortment cheeses. American, I guess. The girl building my sandwich like a construction worker laying brick seemed relieved to have gotten over that hurdle and to move on to more pressing questions, like what kind of veggies I would like.
To the “artist”, I may have simply looked like another annoying customer who didn’t know what they wanted to eat, only that they wanted to eat. To populate their mouths with something, swallow it and then populate their stomachs with that something. The true reason for my delay and indecision in choosing the ingredients was because I was trying to remember the ones my dad use to put on his steak and cheese sandwich. My dad was a fascinating contradiction, a man-child married with children, with a home, living like a single homeless man hoarding an undiscriminating amount of undecipherable items of other people’s refuse. He slowly became estranged from my mom, siblings and me; not coming home for days and being high and acting aggressively towards us when he was. My memory of him, like his presence in my life, is spotty and becomes fuzzy after I try to think about him for prolonged periods of time. I can no longer discern my memories of him as a person and those of him as a photograph. I can’t even remember what I use to call him: dad, daddy, papa, pápi?
I actually didn’t fancy the sandwich I was about to finish ordering and pay for. Having it there, in my hands, warm and almost breathing, I felt like I barely had the ability to swallow my out saliva, let alone a bite of this sandwich. It has become a food that I can no longer eat of. A warm wave of emotion began to run through me like a paralyzing venom. How can a sandwich I use to enjoy eating as a child with my dad hurt so much? Just thinking about it brought a shock of pain like the one a lab mouse who has been conditioned through electroshock torture to associate pleasurable stimulus with pain. By ordering this sandwich I was hoping to revisit this Pandora’s box and relive its contents as to slowly cauterize the wound and build a tolerance to it. However, this old scar’s fibrous weaving became undone. It gave way and opened up the wound. It began to bleed once more.